Thursday, January 31, 2013

And I will say it again and again and again (embassy notwithstanding)

For those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time, you know that I have talked again and again about the absolute necessity of investigations into the orphan status of a child that is being referred for adoption in DRC.  This is critical to an adoption in DRC.  Critical.  And it has to be a 3rd party investigator, meaning someone that has no financial investment or interest in the adoption.  In other words, it can't be your agency that supplies the investigator.  It can't be your organization that supplies the investigator.  And it can't be your lawyer that supplies the investigator.  And it can't be the orphanage director that supplies the investigator.  All of these people are invested in the adoption of the child and are receiving money (whether fees, compensation, or donations to the orphanage) from the adoptive parents that are directly related to the adoption.  

Third party investigations should be initiated immediately upon referral by the adoptive parent.   This would involve sending someone to the site of abandonment, asking questions, interviewing key parties, putting out radio ads (radios are a very common way to spread news and they are easily accessible) for 3-6 months after abandonment.  Why?  Because someone knows the story of the child.  The more time goes by the more that story is forgotten or the harder it is to trace down those who know the story.   In the end, it is the adoptive parent in the visa interview, not the agency.

Not only is the adoptive parent responsible for investigating the story of their child, but so is the agency/organization.  As I have said over and over again here, the stories of the police and social services must be independently verified by them as well.  The organization you are with, the agency you are with also needs to investigate the story.  You are paying them to help you adopt a child that is an orphan.   The story and approval of the commune is not enough.  The story of the orphanage director is not enough.  It must be investigated independently and there must be a good paper trail documenting that investigation.

The responsibility is on the adoptive parent and on the agency or organization.  An investigation shouldn't wait until the embassy visa appointment when you are fully in love with the child that you consider your child.  It should be done before so you can go to your interview with confidence.

If these investigations are done and they are done well, when you get to your embassy interview, you have the assurance that the child you are adopting is indeed a child in need of international adoption.  Their investigation of the orphan status is smoother and quicker because there is a good paper trail and investigation to consider.

Remember, you may have great paperwork when you submit your visa application.  But in the end, that doesn't matter.  What matters is that the paperwork is TRUE.   And the most important way you can verify that is by independent 3rd party investigators.    Because what matters most, is that children are not exploited for gain or taken from families that want them and that may not even know about the adoptions.  What matters most is that those children that truly need international adoption are the ones being adopted and those that need to be reunited with their families are able to go back to them.


Friday, January 25, 2013

watching them grow with love

One amazing part of having been involved with the orphanage for three years (and living in that area of DRC for 1 1/2 of those years) is that I have watched a lot of little ones grow and I have fought very hard to get them the milk and care they need to do so well.  And many of you have also been partnering with us for much of that time as well.  These photos are for you.  I absolutely loved some of the photo updates we received this month.  Especially for some of the older kids, it means so much to see their progress and in some cases, their smiling faces.

If you go to our facebook page you will see a photo of this cutie when I first met him (he is the profile picture).  His name is Bertin.  He is a sweet little guy and always has had a smile on his face when I visited.  Look at him now!  He has gotten so big.

Bertin, 4 years old

Gloire, almost 4 years old, I never saw this little boy smile when I lived in DRC.  I'm so happy to see this smile now!

Nsimire, 4 1/2 (this little one had rickets and didn't walk until she was 3).

Some of the new little ones are doing well and couldn't be cuter as they get bigger.  I'm glad to see that most look well nourished in the photos and are gaining weight.

Nabuchi, 16 months old

Neema, 19 months old

Maajabu, 5 months old (gained 6 lbs since October!)

This little man is quite the miracle, Benjamin, 20 months old
And two photos that mean a lot to me that came this month is of the wonderful mamas that care for the children.  In the two photos they are caring for all the new babies (six) that have arrived since October.  We are raising funds to hire more mamas to care for all the babies.  If you are interested in helping us hire more women, please let me know at hmulford (at) gmail (dot) com.  Or donate here.  (Mamas get paid $50/month).  

Washing babies.  

Getting the babies dressed for bed.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

a story, part II (mine, theirs and the weight of a signature)

The second part of the USCIS definition that I fell for hook, line, and sinker was this, "...and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption" (source).  The consents to adopt on some of the children I helped with had multiple signatures on them.  It was amazing.  I assumed those signatures not only meant they couldn't care for the kids, but they also didn't want to raise them.  We knew all the family situations, so it felt like the more signatures on that consent form by the families meant that the family really truly didn't want the child.  I had the director's assurance that the family could not care for the child AND a lot of signatures or thumb prints further validating that the family wanted the child to be adopted.

Why did I assume that a family didn't want their child if they signed those consents?  I'm not sure looking back now.  I know I was really naive.  I think it's pretty obvious that if you offer an extremely poor family the choice between taking the child back into extreme poverty from the orphanage or having them go to the states (where they will have food, health care, schooling, clothing), most would choose the states (or other developed country).  If that is the only choice being offered.   I think it goes without saying that most families want their children to have food, health care, schooling, safety.  And most, if offered those two choices, will take the choice that takes their child out of devastating poverty without much discussion. (And yes, there are some families that don't want their children and do reject them, but that is the exception.)


Chereba, again (just because he is so cute)

I started to think about the new wives.  It was true that some of the new wives rejected the first wives children.  At first I thought it was all new wives, but then I got to know more and more congolese families and in fact it was a lot less than I thought.  I started to learn about wonderful women who cared for all the children in their home as well as they could despite their extreme poverty.  I started to learn that it was the exception rather than the rule and that when we helped with school fees of the children who had left the orphanage, they were all sent to school.   I started to think about the role of the church and what if we, as a part of our work with a social worker started talking about family care, started working with the new wives and really talked to them about the barriers they felt in taking back the first wives babies.  What if we did projects in the churches with women's groups about these issues and worked on sensitizing the communities to the love God has for all children.  I started wondering what if I treated them with dignity and respect, instead of the assumptions I was making that they are all the evil step mother.  Maybe in fact, they did want the children, but maybe there were a lot of barriers and cultural assumptions that prevented them from completely accepting or "wanting" the children.

Two of the children who are back with their families and who we support with school fees. 

Then, I started thinking about the big brothers and sisters of the babies at the orphanage, and the ones yet born to the new wives.  Most of the children adopted had older siblings at home.  So, I had to ask myself, if signing a consent meant that the families didn't want the child, then what about the other children at home?  Did they not want them either?  Or maybe they just didn't want the newborn but they wanted that newborn's older siblings?

If any of you know anyone who is Congolese, you will be immediately repulsed by those assumptions I was making.  Let me tell you about when a new baby is born.  There is celebration and joy (in fact I was often very reprimanded for only having two children from men and women in DRC, the more children the better!).  The baby is swaddled in what looks like 50 blankets and cherished.  They are put to breast and kept with their mothers and families day and night.  When mothers die in birth, the father or other family members walk that baby hours, days, sometimes up to a week to get that baby to a place where they will live and not die.  Sometimes the babies are near death from starvation and illness.  I so admire and respect those families.  I just can't imagine the treks they make to save their babies lives.  Incredibly admirable.

Ziruka, came from far away

I was putting assumptions on families, just because they were extremely poor, that their consent to adoption meant they didn't want the child.  Now I see how wrong those thought I had were and I now I want to be a part of giving families dignity, respect, and justice.  Now, I don't want to make the choice be between a life in dire poverty or a life in the U.S.   I want to be a part of keeping families together and supporting those families so they can care for their children.  (And yes, again, there are those families that will still reject their children, those are the exception, not the rule and the only way to really determine which children fall under this category are by bringing in quality social work).

This orphanage was started as a baby home.  It was started by missionaries 50 years ago.  The missionaries were watching babies die after their mothers died in birth because the families didn't have milk for the new babies.  So, they took the babies in and gave them formula, then they went back to their families.  When families bring babies to the orphanage it is because they want them to be kept alive and given formula, they don't have many other options.  And they are told they have to come get the children again before they are 3-5 years old.  They are never abandoned at the orphanage for adoption.  Remember, I was the one that brought adoption to the orphanage.

Noella, born around Christmas

So, should we be about taking babies and children away from families in extreme poverty that want their children?  If that is the only reason they are not able to care for their children?

I would answer with an emphatic "no".

You might ask then how do you figure out what child can't go home and what one can?  How do you know when international adoption is the right choice for a child?  Social work.  Social work.  Social work.  Go back and check my post out from two days ago.


And guess what, God moved in someone's heart and we have a commitment to funding for a social worker to work with Reeds of Hope (and hence the orphanage).  How exciting is that?!

Yes, after good social work, good support of families, thorough assessments of the children's families, there may be situations where the children need new families and if that is the case we will do what the orphanage has been doing for 50 years, placing the children in long term committed families in the community.  (And yes, maybe there will be a place for international adoption, but that would be after the above possibilities have been exhausted).  We don't want kids to linger in orphanages, they harm children.



Doesn't this sound like an amazing plan and goal?  To first work towards keeping children with their families, then if that doesn't work, look for long term domestic options, and then finally, for those children that cannot be placed back with their families (and remember, families in DRC are wide and extensive) or placed domestically, a role for international adoption.  Doesn't that sound wonderful?   That is what I am advocating for at this orphanage.  Family support, family reunification and family preservation.  (And yes, if that all fails, alternative care.)

This wonderful lady below?  Her name is mama Lyly.  Her husband grew up in the orphanage and then lived in a foster family.  He came to visit many times.  They have children and she worked in the orphanage and blessed their lives with her love.

Mama Lyly

Finally, I wanted to link up to some others talking about these same issues.

Family Hope Love is written by Sara Briton and I have come to respect her a lot as she carefully challenges us all to consider how we can care for the orphans and widows around the world (and how this relates to adoption).

I stumbled on this great post yesterday.  Wow.  What a great read and a great challenge.  I wish I could be this succinct.   So much of it I identified with.  Here is an exerpt--

So let’s go back to why poverty shouldn’t be a reason for a child to be internationally adopted. I never want to have to explain to either of my children that they had families who may have wanted them but they were just too poor. That invites the question of the volume of money spent to bring that child home and could that money have kept him in his existing family? I know, it’s not that simple. I used to roll my eyes at this sentiment. Yea. Go hand out tens of thousands of dollars to impoverished people and see how that goes. 
However, there are reputable organizations that work to help keep families together and reunite families that have been broken apart. It is possible to give financially to help keep families intact. 

Child's i Foundation is an excellent example of an organization working to keep children with families and out of orphanages.

Finally, of course, the Rileys in Uganda have set the mark high with their work in Uganda with family preservation, alternative care, working to move children out of orphanages,  and family support.  It is amazing and commendable work.  Please take some time to check them out!

And again, so no one is confused about this post--  This post is about ME and my journey as I have  learned about the priority of family preservation, family reunification and family support that must come first before IA.  It is about how I have been learning about the priority of social work, social work, social work.  How I now believe that until you have good social work in place, adoptions should not be considered.   It is about keeping families together.  I have worked with this orphanage for 3 years, 1 1/2 of those years was in DRC working directly with the orphanage and it's director.  I lived in this area of DRC for 4 1/2 years.   I have helped with adoptions, and I believe God's grace covers that time so I very hopeful that those children I was a part of bringing into families were indeed ones that needed those families.  I feel like I am now responsible for the things that God has been teaching me over the past 3 years (especially convicting me of them the last 6-9 months) and am compelled to move into this new direction and advocating for adoptions to be put on hold at the orphanage while social services are up and running.  And I hope this goes without saying, but I realize everyone is at different places in their journey and my blog and posts are not meant to be a judgment on anyone.  

*All the children pictured in this post have been reunited with their families*

Friday, January 18, 2013

a story (his, mine, and how the love was left out)

His hands shook mine with vigor and hope, despite devastating loss.  He said, "Thank you.  Thank you so much for bringing milk here so my baby can live."  His wife had just died giving birth to their 10th child, a son named Benjamin.  He was a local pastor.  Women were there mourning and leaving the baby behind because no one could pay for his milk, the family was extremely poor.  He said, "I will come and get him.  When he is a little bigger.  When I have married again."   And every time I saw him over the next 6 months when he was visiting his son (named Benjamin), he would repeat those words again, "thank you, I will come and get him."


Benjamin came to the orphanage (which was set up to be a place to give babies formula after their mothers died until they were weaned and then they all went back to their families) when there were few newborns, actually there was only one other one, a little girl named Chantal.  Both of them arrived right after birth, after their mothers' died.  Chantal's father was in the military.  I never met him, but he called the orphanage often to check on her.    To make sure she was doing well.  Or if he couldn't call, he had someone else call to check on her.


Because they were the only two newborns at the time, they received a lot attention.  We had just done a lot of training with the women about how to mix the formula correctly and we had assured them we would bring it every time we visited.  Benjamin and Chantal thrived compared to the babies that had arrived only one year before.

Around the time they arrived at the orphanage, I was asked to do a pilot adoption program at the orphanage for the organization, Our Family in Africa (OFA), that helped us start our adoption (we finished independently).  I had little to no knowledge of international adoption, but went forward with a lot of prayer and good intentions.  I wanted to help children find families, so I brought adoption to the orphanage.

I was confused about how to go about referrals and matching families and so was the director of the orphanage.  When I learned ALL the children had living fathers, I was surprised to realize that none of the babies were orphans.  I immediately thought, "can adoption from here be legal because they aren't orphans?".  (Again, I didn't know anything about international adoption).  Because OFA was used to abandonment cases from Kinshasa and other areas of DRC, they hadn't worked with many cases of known birth parents so these were new questions for them as well.  So after being assured that yes adoptions could be done from the orphanage, I started doing some research and some reading because it still didn't sit well with me (I mean, the babies and children all had fathers and families and most had siblings that still lived with the fathers or with the fathers and their new wives).  I had heard that step mothers could sometimes reject the first wives children, but in getting to know more and more congolese families during my time living in DRC, I really felt like this was the exception rather than the rule.  Something didn't add up.  How could adoption from this orphanage be okay?

I quickly searched out the USCIS definition of "orphan" as it relates to the immigration of a child.  The part of the definition that applied to the children at this specific orphanage was--"The child of a...surviving parent may be considered an orphan if that parent is unable to care for the child properly and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption"(source).   So, I had the weight of the USCIS behind me; it was okay for these children to be adopted.  I started facilitating adoptions for families.   But something still didn't feel right, there was an unease in my heart and my prayers felt restless.

One the one hand I found my self supporting the adoptions of the children, but on the other hand I was also becoming more and more aware of the extreme poverty of the families and asking myself some hard questions.  And in the meantime, I was witnessing corruption in the process and trying to keep it out of the adoptions.  Until finally this tension was too much and I stopped facilitating adoptions;  though OFA still continued facilitating adoptions.

And then, I finally put my finger on what was bothering me.  About adoptions in DRC in general and about adoptions at the orphanage in specific.  And it goes back to Benjamin, Chantal and that USCIS definition.  I never even considered Benjamin and Chantal for adoption.  Of course not.  Something in my gut said, don't even ask about them.  Maybe for some of you it isn't obvious, because it was certainly clear that the fathers in both cases were "unable to care for the child".  What was bothering me was what was missing from that definition.

It was love.  Love was the missing part of the definition.  Even though extremely poor, those two fathers LOVED their babies.  And had every intention of coming back to get their babies one day.  Most of the fathers and families that drop off their babies have that same intention, it was love that motivated the action to bring the babies to the orphanage in the first place because they were doing the only thing they could to keep them alive.  Yes, they are unable to "care" for their children and yes, if you asked them if they want their babies to go to the U.S. or europe to be adopted (i.e. to be given food, healthcare, education, advantages they would never dream of being able to provide for their children), most would say yes.  If you asked them "can you care for your child?" And then followed that question up with,  "because if you can't, your child can be raised by a loving family in America.  He/she can be adopted. Do you want this?".  The answer would be adoption.  The choice was "adoption to the states" or "home with you in desperate poverty".  When adoption is the only alternative offered to destitute poverty with the family, I began to wonder if there was really a choice at all.  In fact, I began to feel the injustice of such a request.  The inequality is revealed and the lack of respect and rights it showed towards the congolese "birth" family.  I began to wonder, what if I asked, "can you care for you child?"  And then followed that up with, "tell me why you can't care for your child?  what are your dreams for your family, for your child?  what are your skills?  what are the barriers to caring for your child?"  And then, "we want to partner with you, we want to help you keep your child, we want to give you support (if it means job training or child care classes) to care for your child, how can we work together to do that?".

And that began to sit with me more and more.  I began to think about those two fathers and their love for their children and I felt less and less like I wanted to support adoption but that instead I wanted to support family reunification.  Because poverty wasn't reason enough to take a baby away from their family anymore.  

Benjamin's father changed everything for me.  Because it was abundantly clear he loved him. When Benjamin wasn't quite one yet, I heard that his older siblings were begging their father to bring him home, to go get him and bring him back to their family.  And eventually he did.  Benjamin now lives with his family.  I want to be a part of helping more children go back to their families.  With the help of good social work, figuring out the barriers to bringing them home.  Finding ways to partner with families and access the village and community to support families.

Chantal went home too.  And so have others.  And so will more.  Yes, there are a small number of children at this orphanage that can't go home, but that number is very small.  Much smaller than I thought originally.  And we still don't know what those barriers are and it is possible with good social work that maybe even a family in the community/church would take raise them as their own if their own family cannot.  It certainly is done in that area of DRC. And there may still be a role for international adoption at this orphanage after there is social work and thorough investigations of families conducted of their needs, barriers to taking their children home, and safety of the homes.

You may wonder about this post, given I have two adopted daughters from this orphanage.  You may wonder about their story and their situation.  It is theirs to share.  You might wonder if I regret helping with adoptions.  I will say there was much I didn't know then and, as a believer, I do think that God was with me and the director as we made the decisions we did, so I continue to feel hopeful that the adoptions I helped with were those that did truly need new families (some I know for sure that is the case).  I believe in grace.

Now, I feel like I am responsible for the information I have since learned and the ways that I feel God has convicted me about his Word as it relates to families and keeping them together and supporting them.   And I feel compelled to do my best to make sure that if the child is wanted by their father or another member of his/her family, loved and hoped for by that family, then the child is kept with their family, that that child belong to their family.  I want to make sure that poverty doesn't prevent a child from being with their family.  I feel like that is what God has taught me through the story of my time in DRC working at the orphanage, that I should be about keeping the families He created, together, and not be a part of pulling them apart. 

And this is why I am committed to family preservation.

(I write this from the perspective of having lived in eastern DRC for 4 1/2 years.  I worked directly with the orphanage and it's director for two of those years.)

Part 2 of this post can be found here.

Addendum 1/19/13--This post was not meant to be about OFA.   I included their name because it felt like I would be trying to hide something about someone if I said "this organization", and I have nothing to hide, and though we may not agree on everything they helped us tremendously with our adoption and other adoptions as well.   As I pointed out in the post, the adoptions were all legal.  It was meant to be about my journey of coming to the conclusion that before adoption is offered to families of children in orphanage, good social support and services should be offered first (please read my post).   If I am critical of anyone, it is my own role in not realizing the importance of these services, how they are essential to keeping families together.  That in the end, I have realized my passion is for family reunification and family support.  This post was about me (and Chantal and Benjamin) and how my beliefs about adoption have changed.  I also wanted to say that these views have come over a long hard two years of struggling with these issues.  I haven't facilitated any adoptions since the end of 2010, but I have helped 5 families with independent adoptions from the orphanage since that time; I didn't feel like it was important to point that out, but I have been questioned about this so I thought I would share my role in adoptions more completely (I provided contacts and helped with how to set up a dossier and answered questions).  I have been so thankful for the wonderful group of people I have met through adoption and my work with adoptions at this orphanage, many of whom are also passionate about family preservation.   About 6-9 months ago, I finally came to the strong conclusions I stated in this post about adoptions at the orphanage.  As I state in the post, I am not against international adoption.  (I am against corruption in international adoption).  It may have a role again at this orphanage in the future.  But first, I strongly believe they should be put on hold while a social worker gets up and running to do thorough family assessments and find the barriers that prevent families from taking their children into their homes and then give support to the family so the child can stay with the family.  All the children at this orphanage have families and wide extensive family networks.  That is what my post is about.  We started our own adoption with OFA and finished independently because we were living in eastern DRC and our adoption was processed through three embassies in three countries and it made more sense to be independent at that point.   Please, feel free to contact me about any questions you may have about my post or what I have shared.  I have nothing to hide and would be happy to talk to anyone about it.  

Part II of this post is found here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Guest Post--Build Hope, empowering women in DRC

We got to know Dominique V-Plaza when we lived in DRC.  She came to our Sunday church group and we always were challenged and encouraged by her stories of her work with women who had been raped and were at Panzi hospital or had been at the hospital for treatment.  She is now back in the states and has since started a project to support women in Mwenga (eastern DRC).  I'm very excited that she was willing to share her story with all of you today.  I'm completely humbled by the work she is going to be doing and am specifically touched because some of the babies at the orphanage we support have come from the area she will be working in.  And most of the babies that are at the orphanage are there because their mothers died in birth.  I love that her work is going to be helping those mamas live by building a health center so they can access healthcare.  As some of you may know by reading my blog, the mother of our twins died giving birth to them.  She was in the a remote village setting and her family hiked her all through the night to try to get her to a hospital when it was clear she was dying because there was no healthcare where she lived.  What Dominique is doing is critical to preventing children from losing their mothers and it also empowers and strengthens women in eastern DRC.  Dominique needs to raise $5000 in one month before she heads back to DRC.   If you are interested in supporting her work, go here.   I know many of my readers are adoptive parents of little ones from Congo and (like me) often ask yourselves how you can help prevent children from losing their parents and how you can help keep families together. Here is a very important way.  Let's help her raise the money she needs (please feel free to share this post)!  

I remember that I dodged Bahati's first few requests for me to come with her to Mwenga. I was too busy, I had this event, I was traveling, I had to work that weekend, I didn't have the money, I was this, I was that. 

Looking into Bahati's eyes almost every week, I had that sinking feeling that she would take me to a place that God wanted me to go to, and I just didn't know if I had the strength or the ability to respond to His inevitable call. I wanted to hide from God. I didn't want to hear Him, I had prayed for Him to burden me with the struggles of His people and I felt like He had given me too much! I was tired. So for weeks, I dodged her, I am ashamed to say that I flat-out made up excuses sometimes as to why I couldn't make it, some of them true, some of them not so true.

I had first traveled to Congo, bright eyed and bushy tailed, to start a program that would educate and rehabilitate rape survivors by teaching them life-skills to empower and hopefully employ them. Virtually the second I set foot across the border though, I was bombarded by the depth and complexity of the needs that exist in that country, and the overwhelming realization that rape, is just a piece of the tragic puzzle in Congo.

The women I worked with, came in to our Center everyday, with new and old issues. Countless times, I fought to help them receive health-care, I paid rents, my team and I chased after runaway girls,we advocated on behalf of children accused of witch-craft and I helped women find jobs. I visited women who had been abandoned by their husbands, I visited AIDS patients, I listened to tales of abuse that burned deep into my soul, I cried with rape-victims and orphans and I sang and danced with fistula and AIDS patients. I prayed with mamas far older than I was, and in true baptism by fire fashion, I began to see a little clearer, just how interconnected and deeply rooted the issues facing women and children in Congo were and just how late in the chain I was intervening.

Bahati, who was one of the amazing women in our program, planned on taking me into Mwenga to visit massacre sites and women's groups in that territory, but God used my time there to water the seed that He had already planted in my heart, that His people were suffering out in the villages, His women and children in particular and that His call to serve those in most need, was taking me deeper into Congo's hinterlands.

In Mwenga, and in many other rural territories of the DRC, women were not only the targets of rape and other forms of gender-based violence, I saw them getting treated like beasts of burden,working countless hours in the fields. Mwenga women had to birth their babies in unsafe, unclean settings, and if they survived that, they then had to raise their children with little to no resources, clean water or proper  sanitation of any kind. Without a trained medical professional for miles and miles, it was no wonder that women in particular were are at constant risk of preventable disease and death.

It was clear during my time in the village, that without a primary health-care option for these communities, true peace would never be accomplished in Congo. Peace is rooted in placing value on human life and dignity, and there was none of that in Mwenga. When I asked the women what they were doing about one sick and dying child, they responded that there was nothing to do, the clinic was too far away and even if they could get to it, they could not afford the care, that she would need. Death was inevitable. Suddenly, the stories that I had read and heard of  children dying in the arms of their helpless mothers, and women crawling hand and foot to seek out a health-care clinic after being raped, suffering from fistula or mid-labor, were brought to light, and given names and faces.

After leaving Mwenga, I immediately went to Dr. Mukwege, the founder of Panzi Hospital, and my mentor while I worked in Congo, with reports of what I had witnessed in the villages there and the plight of the women and children I had met with. I had been broken by what I had seen, and was infuriated at the inherent injustice in the fact that in a community only a few hours away from an aid-hub, women and children were dying wantonly every day.

This is how the Build Hope project was born. 

Build Hope is our initiative to improve access to primary health-care in the Mwenga territory, starting with making birth safer for mothers in the village of Kilungutwe, by training and resourcing midwives and empowering women.

We will be training and resourcing rural midwives on how to maintain a sterile birthing environment and how to recognize and immediately address certain complications during labor. We will also be resourcing mothers with items like sanitary pads and cycle beads, a safe, non-intrusive way for women to learn and understand their menstrual cycles and therefore, space their births.

Making birth safer may seem like just a small act but it is also a domino action that could potentially drastically reduce maternal mortality, neonatal mortality rates and orphan-hood in this community. Empowering women with education, jobs and the like, is incredibly important, but we need to start with making sure they survive first! When a woman survives the birth process, and is blessed with a healthy and happy child, we are well on the way toward a healthier and happier community. When I think of what this small step could mean for the people of Mwenga, I get really, uncontrollably excited. It excites me when I think of  the women I met there, who wore their despair like clothing, finally being empowered with a chance at a healthy life, a chance to raise their children, to be strong, to lead their communities, and to influence their nation.

Dominique V-Plaza

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It's time

I've written before about Dr. Mukwege on my blog and just had to write about him again tonight.  I just read this post.  And started crying.  Maybe because for 4 1/2 years, this was my home town; I lived by that lake.  Maybe because reading about the people coming out to celebrate his return and the joy that came with it, brings a rush of hope.  Hope for change.  Hope in his message, one of forgiveness and not violence.  Hope for a better future.  And love.  The love of the people for a man that long ago could have left his work to others and worked somewhere safer where he could have made more money.   Love of the people for a man who delves into the heart of one of the darkest horrors in that area of DRC and brings healing and hope, not only by the restoration of broken bodies, but by the day to day commitment and compassion he shows to women as he treats them with dignity and respect.

I've driven the road to Panzi hospital.  It is a very narrow dirt road through the most congested and poorest area of the city.  In the rainy season you slide all over and pray your vehicle doesn't hit anyone or another car (or a moto).  You pray that the trucks don't hit you.  You pass goats.  You drive by sellers with small stands selling anything from books to raw meat.  You are passed by large shipping trucks, small taxis, buses that are stuffed with people, and UN jeeps.  In the rainy season, mud slides roll down the hillside and can sweep away shanty houses and huts.  In the dry season, the dust is so thick you can barely see our your window and the 100s of people walking next to your vehicle are phantoms.  On that road you can expect to be blocked by people protesting and then expect them to pound on the doors of your vehicle.  You can expect to have the road cut off by those protests and have to turn around.  On that road, I had my deepest crisis of faith.  Yet, he and the other dedicated workers of Panzi hospital and places like City of Joy drive it every day.

Did you know that often Panzi hospital doesn't have water?  Or that there isn't always electricity?  Did you know there are roses growing in the open spaces between buildings?  Or that there are 100s of women that gather outside together in the area of the hospital that treats rape victims?

I'll end with some quotes from his words he gave after he was attacked.

The dedicated and courageous staff who work at Panzi Hospital are scared, and my thoughts are with them.  I want them to respond to this hatred with love because I think that it is the only way we can make a difference.  If they continue to do what they do with love and care I have to believe that peace and justice will prevail.  Violence can only create violence....

All the elements are there to put an end to an unjust war that has used violence against women and rape as a strategy of war.  Congolese women have a right to protection just as all the women on this planet.  It is an honor for me to serve these courageous survivors, these women who resist, these women who despite all remain standing.

This is a link to the petition to give your support for the 2013 Nobel Peace prize to go to Dr. Mukwege.  I think it's time, don't you?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

link up

I enjoyed reading this challenging post today, and resonate with much of what Sara is saying as I feel it is very appropriate to adoption in DRC.    We had to walk away for our first adoption of a little boy because we suspected corruption in the process.  We never had proof, but we knew it was the right decision.  It was very difficult, but we don't regret it.   Please take some time to read the post now.   A quote of it is below.  (If you have would like to share your story of adopting from DRC, please let me know.)  

It takes courage to ask the hard questions – and to walk away if you discover that the child you love does not need a new family. It is brave to tell the truth, especially when adoption agencies who profit from corruption will go to great lengths to silence families.
Friends, I will keep beating this drum as long as it takes. It is time for the Christian adoption and orphan care movement to wake up to the reality of corruption – and the truth of Scripture. The Bible is crystal clear that exploiting the poor, destroying families, paying bribes and denying justice are sin. The Bible is also clear that we are called to protect and provide for orphans and widows - and the reality in the world today as in the world when the Bible was penned is that most orphans are living with widows and that these families are vulnerable to exploitation. Protecting and providing for these families – preventing children from being abandoned - must become a priority. It is time for change.

Friday, January 11, 2013

water, it's gentle seduction

Tonight I came home and the water in our house was a trickle and then by the end of the night it had dried up.

It's funny how quickly I remembered.  The feel of my hand turning the faucet and the empty response.  Remembered life with little water.  Carrying full Jerry cans to do menial tasks like flushing toilets, washing clothes.  Warming pots of water on the gas stove to wash babies.  Hours of waiting for small streams of water to fill the bath.  Husband dumping boiling pots of water into the cold depths of that long awaited bath.  Grateful.  Even though the water was brown.

Grateful.  Drinking that water.  After it had been boiled, put at rest, cooled, then poured through ceramic filters.  And finally put through a brita filter to help it taste better.

Rain, filling our cisterns.  Praying it was enough for the dry times.  Every year those dry times lasting longer and longer and the cisterns staying empty longer and longer.

Humbled and guilty.  Knowing that our water was much cleaner than most we lived around.  That if they were fortunate to have enough fuel it might be boiled.  For a small amount of time.   Little children on dusty night streets struggling to haul those yellow cans, fortunate if full of water.  One can of water for their families of 8, 10 or 12 people.  That would be spread over the next day.  Children sent out in the dark of the night to find the water, because their parents must sleep, to keep their jobs and water isn't found during the day.  Trying to justify our need for 10 of these same cans for our family.

Water, a gift that I have forgotten the feel of it's weight through my fingers.  Water, a right for all, but given to those privileged and rich with resources and wealth.

I'm thirsty tonight.  Because the taps are dry.  Because I want what I can't have for one night.

How does one live with thirst unquenched day after day after day?  How does one live when that same thirst is forgotten?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

food and life in the states

There have been many adjustments to moving back to the states.  Some expected, some not.  For some reason, I didn't expect how out of place I would feel so much of the time and how that would make it difficult to make new friends (that go deeper than surface conversations).  I didn't expect to battle loneliness, feeling so overwhelmed with the transitions thrust upon us constantly, or the stress.

One thing (of the many) that I found completely overwhelming when we moved back to the states was cooking for my family.  I remember frantically writing friends and family asking them to send me recipes as I really had no idea how to do it anymore.  Remember, I had a cook for 4 1/2 years and the kitchen in my house, well, it was pretty much his kitchen.  Our cook was sort of like father in our house.  And it was definitely his kitchen.  I think I cooked before we left for Congo (well, I'm positive of it actually) but when we moved back with all our little ones, any memory of those days left and left quickly.

Part of the problem probably was that I HATED grocery shopping when we moved back to the states and would have to physically refrain myself from having panic attacks in the store.  It was so totally overwhelming after life in DRC. (I mean, our cook even did the shopping each week).   So many choices for every single food item.  I remember becoming completely baffled by the by the orange juice selections (and still do).   I simply couldn't handle it and remember one time walking out with just a bottle of cold coke because it felt like home, instead of the food I was supposed to buy from our long list.

So, for a long time we ate pasta, quesadillas, pizza, and omelets.  Every single night, week after week.  It was all I could handle.  (Mike is a great cook, but he was really overwhelmed with his first year of school and often came home a little later than the food needed to be cooked).  We didn't eat a lot meat because we are mostly vegetarians but also because the organic/grass-fed meat is really expensive (and after watching Food inc, it's hard to buy anything else despite the savings).

All that changed when we moved to the country and down the street from a farm that had CSA boxes.  And our lives changed.  All of a sudden I was trying to figure out what to do with kholrabi (well, first I had to figure out what it was!) and how to cook bok choy.  It was awesome.  And from a farm 1/2 mile down our road.  And it was affordable.  Now, the kids favorite food is potato/leek/spinach (or kale) soup that also just might have parsnips, turnips and celeriac in it.

Part of the appeal probably is that I don't have to choose and buy the food.  The only goal that is before me is to use up all the food in the box over a week.  I don't even go on-line for recipes (because once again, too many choices would overwhelm me), but dig through old cookbooks I have had stored away for years.   Our choices are now limited to what will grow from the earth on the ground we live in, in the current season.

Our cook made awesome soups that I miss as much as I miss him.  I love that our kids love soup too.  I suppose given that they ate soup and bread every day for lunch for 4 1/2 years it makes sense.  But maybe it also makes sense because then the soup was made from food bought by farmers growing in their small farms and now our soup is also coming from food from our local small farm.

Somehow, over that pot of soup, my loneliness eases and everything feels okay again.

Our cook with Natalie when she was a baby.  

Some things just seemed a lot simpler in those days.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

kids and their words

I'm working on a big post, but it's taking some time.  In the meanwhile, here are some little words I have overheard from my kids lately.

Natalie (almost 6) as daddy left for a trip recently, "Mommy, you got to go on lots of trips and get breaks from us, now it's daddy's turn."  (Not sure if I should feel a bit chagrined about that being her take home message about why I went on two work conference trips and two trips to the west coast to two family weddings this last year.  I suppose there is some truth to it...)

Isla (just 4), the next day after a bad croup attack during the night, "Mommy, you know why I was sick and couldn't breath?  Well, you know I like mouses.  Those mouses were in my throat.  But I don't know why.  I didn't leave my mouth open when I was sleeping."

Ellie (3), after talking to daddy on skype, to me later that night (reassuring herself), "Mommy.  I have a daddy.  Yup.  He lives in the computer.  I don't know how he's going to get out, Mommy, and come back."  A bit confused by it all.

Mia (3), missing daddy, "I want him home now, he's hungry, how will he get back here to eat?"   Earlier the same day after struggling to put a princess dress on, "oh, I'm so beautiful.  beautiful.  I am just so beautiful."

Be back soon!

Mia, Isla, and Ellie (the picture is now hanging straight :)